By Peter T. Macy
Here's an idea for the holidays: A ride with Santa on the Mount Washington Cog Railway (Dec. 7, 8, 14, 15, 21-24, reserve via www.thecog.com or 603-278-5404).
Why this promotion of the Cog? First, because I hiked to the summit a number of times and scoffed at those arriving by other means. Too, there is an interest here in early (1869) engineering feats. Also, I have finally ridden the Cog. So perhaps I am eating a little crow.
Now I want to add my admiration to the proposal of Sylvester Marsh, which, long before my time, was scoffed at by the New Hampshire legislature. March persevered; the Cog was built and exists today for our pleasure. Not only am I amazed by this project, but when I hiked Crawford Path, I found it difficult to believe that 150 years ago, this was a carriage road to the summit.
The Cog operates somewhat like a bicycle. It has a wheel with spokes tucked into a chain set precisely between the railroad tracks running to the summit. The tracks keep the cogs fitted into the notches of the chain.
Until 2008, trains were propelled by steam. It took (and still takes the daily 8:15 a.m. steamer) a ton of coal and 1,000 gallons of water to make one round trip to the summit. Water was/is supplied from a tower about halfway up. The other trains of the day are biodiesel -- a more efficient, economical and environmentally acceptable means of operation.
We were advised to arrive an hour early for our scheduled departure. It is an hour well spent because there is a neat video describing the Cog's history in the museum.
The climb up is interesting. Once above the tree line, the vistas open up for picture-taking. The summit gradually comes into focus.
We arrived in about an hour. If not in the clouds, the Sherman Adams building at the summit offers spectacular views. Some, but not I, have said they have seen the Atlantic Ocean from there. The building offers food, souvenirs and, one thing special, a post office.
The train offers you an hour on the summit and a return seat. The trip down is managed by a powerful clutch. Many of us learned to drive by shifting down to a low gear on steep descents. This is exactly what the engine of the Cog does. As a precaution, however, the passenger car, which is not attached to the engine, has a brake of its own in case of emergency.
The trip does have the excitement of a climb and the hot soup at the summit is welcoming. The only thing I missed was the feeling of conquest, the exhilaration of accomplishment, which belonged elsewhere.